How To Live In the Paradox of Happiness

A paradox occurs when two things that appear opposite are put together. Take Strength and Vulnerability, as an example:

Strong: having 1. bodily or muscular p
Vul·ner·a·ble:1. capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt; 2. open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc.ower. 2. mental power, force, or vigor. 3. moral power, firmness, or courage. 4. power by reason of influence, authority, resources, numbers, etc.
On the surface, these appear to belong to different worlds, right? Let’s try something in your body. I invite you to actually do the following 2-step exercise before you read more of this newsletter:


  1. Without changing anything, just notice how you are sitting or standing in this moment.
  2. As you sit or stand, plant both feet flat on the floor at shoulder width.
  3. Elongate your spine upward until you feel at your maximum height. (Imagine a thread tied to the crown of your head, pulling you upward.)
  4. Notice how this simple shift – accessing your full height – automatically ignites a feeling of strength in you.Notice how your breath naturally drops lower in your body and your center of gravity moves down to ground you. In this body, you have the most access to personal power (no matter your height or shape or demographic).AND…
  5. Notice how, at the same time you access your full power and height, your shoulders open up and drop back, exposing your heart and your belly to predators.

Yes, even as you “wear” your strongest, confident self, you are simultaneously at your most open and vulnerable.
This, then, is the paradox of Happiness – at the moments you are most connected and engaged and content and holding your personal power, you are also the most vulnerable and open to attack, to having your hopes dashed, to having your heart broken.
And that is why happiness must be a conscious decision. The moment you declare you are happy, you open yourself to the possibility of UNhappiness. The moment you declare yourself to be in control, you tempt the Universe to toss a hand grenade into your beautifully organized life.
What is the alternative? To hunker down. To never expose yourself. To protect your heart by closing it off. To never take risks. To never declare satisfaction or contentment.
If you never open up, you can’t be hurt, right? Perhaps. Yet it also means you never stand tall, you cannot completely connect to your full strength, you can never win big because you only play “small.”


Last month I took a big risk for me. As a requirement for a personal development program I’m taking, I created and ran a public workshop in which I invited people to engage in movement and dance as a way to connect to the wisdom of their bodies. Some of the people who showed up were there because they love to dance already. But many of the participants admitted to feeling very exposed, very vulnerable, and way out of their comfort zone.
It went fabulously well (whew!). Because we each chose to open ourselves up to an alien and possibly embarrassing experience, through the paradox of happiness we discovered new strengths and new tools that will support us in our life and work.


For a day or a week, pay attention to what happens in your body and your brain when you encounter a situation you consider risky or with the potential to cause you harm.
It might be a meeting at work, a coworker or neighbor who creates discomfort in you, or an encounter with a stranger or a new project or technology. Any of these can create a ‘fear response’ in you and cause a closing down that shows up in your body – and subsequently, your thinking.
When you notice this sensation, repeat the exercise detailed in the top of this newsletter: plant your feet, access your full height. Notice how, when you intentionally open yourself up you also access a different power and strength – both non-verbally and mentally.
Then take note of how differently that situation plays out, when you leverage the paradox of happiness.

Read more articles like this one in: Happiness, Happiness Tips, Leadership, Practicing Happiness

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